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Last Updated: Friday, 17 September, 2004, 22:43 GMT 23:43 UK
'No-go' jibe as Michael pulls out
Ramblers

A pro-hunt group has warned minister Alun Michael's decision to drop out of a march shows the countryside is a no-go area for Labour.

The rural affairs minister dropped out of the walk marking the start of right to roam over fears he would be targeted by hunt protesters.

He withdrew in the interests of public safety, a spokeswoman for his department said.

But the Countryside Alliance warned Labour to get used to rural fury.

Mr Michael, the minister responsible for steering a hunting ban through Parliament, had been due to join walkers in the Peak district on Sunday to mark the opening up of 100,000 hectares of land.

The new law gives walkers the right to roam off paths in certain agreed areas.

Mr Michael has already been confronted by protesters who stormed the House of Commons during the debate on the bill.

And the Countryside Alliance said high-profile ministers in the Labour government could expect to be regularly targeted when visiting rural areas.

'Access land'

The Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokeswoman said that while Mr Michael believed it was extremely important that people were not intimidated by protesters.

She added that he believed it would have been unfair on others involved in the right to roam to have their celebrations disrupted

She stressed that the right to roam events would continue, as it was clear Mr Michael was being targeted personally because of his role in steering through the legislation to ban hunting.

Laws passed four years ago to allow walkers onto moors, downland, heath, mountain and common land designated as "access land", come into force at the weekend in two areas of England - the South East and Lower North West.

Ordnance Survey has produced new maps showing the access areas.

Kinder Scout

The new laws do not give people a right to roam anywhere. Areas like gardens and cultivated land are not included and there are restrictions on some areas at certain parts of year.

A total of 105,253 hectares of new access land will be opened on Sunday - 13,853 in the South East and 91,400 in the Lower North West, including the Peak District.

NEW RIGHTS
Access to designated "open country"
Walking, birdwatching, climbing allowed, even off paths
No cycling, camping, horse riding

Other regions will follow suit in the coming months.

Celebrations

Terry Howard, 58, helped set up the Sheffield Campaign for Access to Moorlands (Scam) in 1982, organising a series of trespasses in the Peak District.

"It is gaining rights that people that people once had to enjoy their countryside and share in it, rather than just see it from afar," Mr Howard told BBC News Online.

Rural affairs minister Alun Michael MP
Mr Michael is being targeted because of his role in the Hunting Bill
"Every footstep on new access land will be a celebration. What once were steps of political statement will be steps of political celebration."

Rural Affairs Minister Alun Michael was to join ramblers exercising the new access rights in the Forest of Bowland and the Peak District.

The preparations for the new laws have seen some landowners appeal against their land being designated for access - most famously over Madonna's 9m country estate on the Wiltshire/Dorset border.

The Country Land and Business Association (CLA) opposed the legislation.

Mr Michael was also due to visit events in Lancashire. Police in the county had also advised against a visit.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
The BBC's Carole Walker
"Mr Michael decided to pull out in the interests of public safety"



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